US "Secure 5G and Beyond" Bill could be law soon

© Flickr/cc-licence/YuriSamoilov

© Flickr/cc-licence/YuriSamoilov

  • Emergence of a national strategy to protect 5G networks - and whatever comes after them
  • US allies would get help to protect their 5G networks as well
  • Growing concern over foreign espionage via next generation networks
  • However, "multi-agency" input could result in rivalries and dysfunction

If "The Secure 5G and Beyond" Bill, being put forward by a (just about) bipartisan group of seven US Senators (and their special advisor, Buzz Lightyear), is enacted into law the administration will be required to set up a national strategy to secure protect 5G networks and whatever might come after them. "And lo, they shall be protected even unto the Thousandth Generation".

What is particularly interesting about the proposal is that a "multi-agency framework" would be established under the aegis of the US Commerce Department with a remit to protect 5G (and beyond, of course) both within the US domestic environment and without. It seems that the networks of US allies and partners would also fall under the penumbra of Uncle Sam's protective umbrella.

The move comes some months after various advisors to US President Donald Trump mooted the idea of the development of a national US 5G network to guarantee data security. The original concept was given short shrift because many Republican (and some Democrat) politicians took the notion of a  "national" network to be the same thing as "nationalised" and the thin edge of the socialist wedge. There was much criticism and the idea was quickly abandoned. This time round though the proposal has got a lot further, not least because the Secure 5G and Beyond Bill makes it specifically clear that no future comms networks should be or will be a nationalised one.

The Bill is sponsored by Senators Richard Burr (Republican, North Carolina), Mark Warner (Democrat, Virginia), John Cornyn (Republican, Texas), Susan Collins (Republican, Maine), Tom Cotton (Republican, Arizona) and Marco Rubio, (Republican, Florida).

Huawei: still the elephant in the room

According to Senators Burr and Warner, if passed the Bill "would require the President of the United States to develop a strategy to ensure the security of next-generation mobile telecommunications systems and infrastructure in the US as well as to assist allies in maximizing the security of their systems, infrastructure, and software."

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is a part of the US Commerce Department, would co-ordinate implementation of the strategy together with the heads of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Director of National Intelligence, the Justice Department, and the Defence Department. It should be a breeze to sort that out with no chance at all of inter-(and intra-) agency rivalries or political turf wars likely to get in the way.

The Senators behind the "Secure 5G, etc., etc." proposal say a federal strategy is needed to ensure that future networks and the data they will carry are safe from hacking and other interference by foreign governments agencies or common criminals. Not specifically mentioned is the Chinese telecoms equipment provider Huawei and its long-presumed potential to be a de facto gent for espionage conducted on behalf of the government of the People's Republic. But the suspicion of Huawei is deep rooted.

Commenting on the proposal, Senator Warner said, "The greater complexity, density, and speed of 5G networks relative to traditional communications networks will make securing these networks exponentially harder and more complex. It’s imperative that we have a coherent strategy, led by the president, to harness the advantages of 5G in a way that understands and addresses the risks."

The Act would also require the US President to render aid and assistance to overseas allies and treaty partners in maximising the security of their 5G networks both in terms of hardware and software. This is not new. Since 2016 the US has been exhorting allies and partners overseas to beef-up the security of their 5G networks but the new Act would codify strategic incentives to help US allies protect their 5G networks against outside interference.

It is a fact of US political life that many proposed Bills never make it through legislative process and "The Secure 5G and Beyond Bill" will require the approval of the Senate, the House and the President if is it is to make it onto the Statute Books and that which could make for a choppy and problematical passage. However, since so much is now hanging on the success of US 5G networks the Federal government is giving prioritised consideration to legislation and regulation relating to the technologies and proponents of the Bill say it has a good chance of passing without much delay or obfuscation.

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